How to Address Your Child's Cursing
The most appropriate way to address your young child’s cursing may be to not address it at all.
I can vividly remember the first time that our 3-year-old daughter said, “What’s the deal with all of the F—KING cars?” as we were sitting in traffic on the freeway. My first instinct was to laugh hysterically because it sounded so absurd coming out of this tiny child’s mouth! (Not to mention that she was right! What was the DEAL??)
However, I knew that if I laughed, her language would be reinforced, and she’d most likely start to use that word more frequently. So, I simply responded to her as if she hadn’t just dropped the F bomb in our car, “I don’t know what the deal is with the cars, I guess a lot of people are trying to get places today.” And just as I thought, we moved right along, and she hasn't used the word since.
I can vividly remember the first time that our 3-year-old daughter said, “What’s the deal with all of the F—KING cars?” as we were sitting in traffic on the freeway.
Now then, how you address your child’s cursing very much depends on how old your child is.
When our children are very young, there are a few truths we need to acknowledge. We are our children’s biggest examples in all areas, so if they begin using curse words, it should be a very large mirror where you see yourself reflected. It may be time to start filtering your language a bit more and avoiding the use of those curse words around your children.
We also need to understand that oftentimes, attention (in any form: laughing, praise; but also negative attention, such as reprimands) serves to reinforce behavior. So, when your young child utters a curse word, HOW you respond is crucial to whether or not they will repeat that word in the future.
If you choose to acknowledge the word and use the moment to teach your child that it is not an appropriate word to use, you risk that your child either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about your lesson. However, the attention provided to the word may be enough to increase your child’s use of the word in the future. You may be better off simply ignoring the word and carrying on with your child as if the word had not been uttered. (Note: Ignore the behavior; NOT your child.)
With older children, there are a couple of ways that we can handle cursing behavior.
It is our opinion that children (well, all people, really), don’t simply stop engaging in behavior. Rather, they just learn in which settings certain behavior is permissible, and in which settings certain behavior is not permissible.
For example, 'tweens and teens should be learning that certain topics of conversations or ways of speaking are okay amongst friends, but they wouldn’t speak the same way in front of a teacher or parent. This is the natural way that your 'tween/teen should learn to adapt cursing behavior.
Follow our four essential steps to addressing your older child’s cursing behavior:
- If you can hear the cursing, then your child is using inappropriate language for the setting (home) or audience (parents)
- Set up a reinforcement system for having a conversation without cursing; using a points or money system is a great way to reinforce appropriate language.
- Establish a consequence for cursing when around family or adults. If you are using points or money to reinforce, then you could remove points or money for cursing. Alternatively, you can assign a chore or other non-preferred task (or you can remove access to preferred items).
- Have a conversation with your child about the new expectations. Acknowledge that your child is growing up, wanting to use more mature language, etc. Talk about the times, places, and people around which cursing is permissible, and where it is not permissible.